By Armen Zakarian
Armenia on Wednesday rejected Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev’s calls for a new internationally sponsored plan to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh that would return the disputed territory under Baku’s control.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said the French, Russian and U.S. mediators should stick to agreements that were reportedly reached by the two parties in 2001 and, according to the Armenian side, would uphold Karabakh’s de facto independence.
The mediating trio, which heads the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), was on Tuesday again criticized by Aliev for allegedly not doing enough to restore his country’s territorial integrity. “They have to develop new suggestions and put more pressure on the aggressor,” he told reporters in Baku.
Aliev, who inherited power from his late father Heydar last year, also renewed Azerbaijani threats to win back the Armenian-controlled region by force if the negotiation process remains in impasse. “Azerbaijan has the full right to liberate its lands, using all possibilities,” he said.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Oskanian defended the Minsk Group co-chairs’ track record, saying that Baku is unhappy with the mediators because they have not adopted a pro-Azerbaijani stance.
“We can only express hope that what has been achieved until now will remain in force and we will continue to build upon it,” he said. “It would be an unfortunate loss of time if all of sudden the process were to be rolled back and re-launched from scratch.”
The negotiators announced no new written proposals on Karabakh when they visited Baku, Stepanakert and Yerevan last month, effectively resuming the peace process that had been put on hold due to the 2003 presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, their trip as well as the ensued first-ever meeting in Geneva between Kocharian and Aliev shed no light on the current prospects for a Karabakh settlement.
The Minsk Group co-chairs held a planned meeting in Vienna earlier this week but issued no statements afterwards. “I strongly doubt that they discussed any new proposals,” Oskanian said.
Armenian officials say further progress in the conflict resolution depends on Aliev’s willingness and ability to embrace agreements reached by his father and Armenian President Robert Kocharian during a series of peace talks in Paris and the Florida island of Key West in the spring of 2001. Azerbaijan continues to deny that any major deals were cut at the time, however.
The Paris talks were personally mediated by French President Jacques Chirac who is scheduled to receive Aliev later this Friday as part of the latter’s official visit to France. The Karabakh issue is expected to be high on the agenda of the meeting.
Oskanian said he hopes Chirac will remind the Azerbaijani leader of the essence of what the Armenian side describes as “the Paris principles” of resolving the Karabakh dispute. “He was present at the meeting between Heydar Aliev and Kocharian and maybe Ilham Aliev will be given information about the content of that meeting,” he said.